Possibly an overreaction. (JP Cresmden/Dytha)


IC Date Reference: Set a couple of days after Dytha “moves in” with Cremsden and Margana. Minor content warning for partial nudity.

To say that it had been horrific was probably an understatement. The worst part was that it was likely considered fairly mild as far as fellis withdrawal went. The prospect of sleep had been few and far between as she bounced between a strange insomnia combined with complete and total exhaustion. Everything had hurt and sure enough, she had already blown up at Cremsden in pure vitriol only to collapse seconds later in furious sobs. He hadn’t been kidding. But it had felt she was hopefully tipping the crest and had managed to sleep a little. And as promised, Cremsden had been fussing over her like a mother wherry and a nest of brand new hatchlings. He had all but threatened her that he would be looking over her feet later that day short of her being tied down to stop him. 

They still hadn’t heard what was happening with H’lan. And that helped nothing. Dytha had found some small success in distracting herself by holding Arden when necessary which was, to be honest, far easier than trying to look through paperwork when her eyes wouldn’t focus properly. What she was craving was a bath, missing her own (albeit tiny) bathing pool that she could sink into whenever she wanted and had contemplated whether she would be able to find something near enough that it felt… about as safe as it could be. What hadn’t been expected was the Apprentice at the door, out of breath from running with a note that Cremsden was briefly needed urgently. It had taken Cremsden close to a quarter mark of hastily reassuring Dytha that he would be no more than half a candlemark before he would be back before he had finally left. Arden had been put down for a nap and shouldn’t wake for anything short of the Weyr falling down he had said and the door had been carefully locked behind him. Determined to pass the time as quickly as possible, trying to ignore the feeling that she was now entirely alone and therefore entirely vulnerable, Dytha had sent Ponth to feed and had told herself that she was capable of pouring a bowl of clean water and freshening herself up.

Alone other than Bitey at least, and the blue firelizard was fierce enough that Cremsden trusted him to guard against most dangers. He was prowling the weyr now, bored without Cremsden there to bully, looking for entertainment.

Something swung at the edge of his vision -- just a belt swinging slightly where it was hung but for a moment it twitched like prey, like the tail of a tunnelsnake and he pounced, pulling it down with a crash.

Not entirely comfortable enough to just strip down in the middle of the weyr, Dytha had carefully limped into the bedroom with a bowl of clean water and towel. She was fairly sure neither Cremsden or Margana would mind her borrowing a corner to clean up in. Plus she wasn’t exactly going to be nosing around. That said, it didn’t stop her feeling as though she was in her parents’ bedchambers, the most off limits of off limits places. She had been halfway through stripping down when she heard the crashing sound that came from… the main weyr.

Her thoughts went the only place they felt was the most logical. That didn’t mean it was the most rational. Her mind didn’t calmly assume that a bored firelizard had found himself some trouble, it automatically assumed that the noise had been someone crashing through a locked door. Dytha froze, eyes skidding towards the doorway as though waiting for a looming shadow to appear, scarcely daring to breathe in case that too was heard.

It was only a belt but it smelt like meat and Bitey was happy enough to forget his dignity enough to fight with it, rolling on the floor as he clawed at it and shook it, playing the mighty hunter for a moment. Distracted by his enthusiasm he crashed briefly into a small table, released the belt for a moment and then pounced on it again, determined to ‘kill’ it.

It was the sound of the second crash that kick started her into momentum. Her brain knew only one ‘fact’ and that was that she had been found. With Ponth distracted by the orgiastic delight of shredding herdbeast, feeding on the pent up stress in Dytha to release some of her own, Dytha could see no obvious escape. Not to mention, getting to the ledge meant going through the main weyr. Where the noises had come from. Which meant where H’lan was. If she had been calmly observing herself from the outside, she probably would have been quietly amazed at the speed in which she lunged first for a belt knife she spotted on top of the dresser and then for Arden, scooping up the infant before throwing herself towards the only thing her brain had processed. The small closet in the corner of the room. With adrenaline pumping through her, she was oblivious to the cuts that split and tore, leaving fresh droplets of blood behind as she threw herself and the infant into the closet as though her life depended on it.

It was another ten minutes before Cremsden returned, and by then Bitey was happily chewing the leather strip that had once been a belt in a corner.

“Back!” He called out of habit as he stepped through the door.. And stopped. He could hear Arden crying and it sounded.. Wrong. “Dytha?”

Inside the closet Dytha had pulled down anything she could to both hide her and Arden and block the door as much as she could. Which meant she was effectively surrounded by clothing as she tried to shush the squalling Arden, frantic tears streaming down her cheeks as the belt-knife was held out in front of her. The sound of a voice was muffled through the door and once again, her mind came to only one conclusion. Which meant she didn’t answer.

There was blood on the floor. It took a second to spot it and then Cremsden went cold. There was blood on the floor, Bitey was nowhere to be seen, Dytha was nowhere to be seen and somewhere his baby was crying. 

And of all the people to be in this situation he was possibly the only one who could not easily call for help. For a breath he debated that, what he knew was the sensible action of stepping back out and looking for help. But that meant leaving, and right now his baby was crying.

His hand dropped to his own belt knife, leaving the door open behind him as he padded in, following the sound.

The wait was torturous. Every second seemed as though it was dragging her over hot coals. Desperately she tried to quiet Arden, shushing him and smoothing his head with the hand wrapped around him. She strained to hear through the silence, listening for anything that told her what was going to happen next. Although Ponth prickled with surprise at the spike of fear, her need for food was domineering, the little green not having eaten properly in days and she revelled in the carnage she was currently causing.

It was coming from the closet and Cremsden stared at the door, breathing coming fast and hard. Trail of blood leading to the closet. Baby crying in closet. Right.

One, two, three and he snatched the door open, knife held ready in his free hand, ready to see.. Just about anything.

As the light came streaming in, she was temporarily blinded. “I’ve got a knife, H’lan!” It was a shrill, fear-filled assertion as she tried to focus around the sudden spots of colour and the blurred shape of a person. Never mind that it was the wrong shape and size, she was on a one track direction of travel with her thoughts. Door had opened, person was there. Why would she stop to think that it was the owner of the weyr?

“Where?” And Cremsden was ready for a trap because Faranth it felt like a trap. He took the name as a warning and dived for the floor, rolling, ready to find an enemy stood right behind him. 

It took a moment to register that there was no-one there.

Still adjusting to the sudden light, all Dytha made out was human shape that suddenly vanished. “I’m not playing your games!” It was in that same shrill tone and she jabbed the knife at the air. It was only a small blade but she could get it somewhere it would hurt if she had to.

Cremsden sat up slowly. No one behind him, no one else in the room. He looked around, heartbeat starting to slow from “oh crap” levels. “Dytha,” he said carefully. “Dytha, it’s me, Cremsden. You’re in my weyr. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else here. What happened?”

Fear was burning through her veins as quickly as if someone had thrown a match over a quikal spillage. Her ears heard her name, true, but in the calm and logical side of her brain had been totally cut off from the side that ran purely on emotion. “Stop saying my name! It doesn’t belong to you so stop saying it!” The knife quavered in her hand even as she tried feverishly to shush Arden, juggling him awkwardly in her other arm.

Watch Arden, watch the knife, kick yourself as an idiot for allowing this situation to happen because you knew better. Cremsden was very still now, very carefully judging his words, eyes glued to his son.

“Sweetheart,” he said carefully. “It’s Cremsden. You know me. Just Cremsden. Arden’s crying now, lovely. Can you give me Arden?”

Cremsden. Cremsden. The name fought its way through the cloudy blur of panic and asserted itself. Blinking furiously past the tears that still streamed down her cheeks, her eyes finally adjusted to the light and she saw… not H’lan. No, smaller and less muscular. Not tall and looming over her… well, just about everyone loomed over her, but he was different. Predatory all of the time. 

“Cr… Cremsden?” She squeaked, the knife dropping from her hand with a thud and fumbling with the infant. Somewhere her brain finally noticed that if the child was crying, he would probably want his father and the chubby body was held out towards Cremsden.

Cremsden’s breath came in a relieved whoosh as he reached for the baby, hands trembling only slightly. Take him very calmly, very slowly, no need to cause alarm and then.. He clutched the child to him tightly, rocking him, shells, rocking his whole body to soothe him as he sat on the floor..

“Oh my lamb, my sweetling, it’s okay, shush, shh now, it’s okay, I’m here, it’s okay…” he murmured, sweet soothing whispers, eyes fixed on Arden for a moment. Dytha would need him shortly he knew, but right now, he just needed to hold Arden safe.

As the child left her fingers, it was if the only thing keeping her up had gone and Dytha crumpled up on the floor, sitting in a ball amongst the pile of clothes that had been hastily pulled down in a desperate attempt to form a makeshift barricade. “I thought… I thought… There was a noise…” The stammered gasps of words came between breaths as though her brain was reminding her that she also needed to breathe. Her eyes could see it was Cremsden and that he appeared to be alone, but her body was still filled to the brim with fear that would take longer to recede.

“It’s safe. You’re safe. No-one here but me and Arden.” It was the same gentle tone he used on the baby. He didn’t look up from the baby, or try to move towards her but one arm lifted, held out in silent offering -- there is room for you here next to me if you want to be here.

The small, compressed space felt oddly comforting and she briefly shook her head, though Cremsden received a watery smile in silent appreciation of his equally silent offer. “Am okay here.” Her eyes moved carefully, as though assessing the precise boundaries of the closet. “Something crashed. I… I panicked. Grabbed Arden. And the knife.” Something of an understatement. But some part of her brain seemed to be noticing the sheer disproportionality of her actions and it filled her with dismay.

“It happens,” Cremsden said, as matter-of-factly as if she had confessed to knocking a vase over. “I was an idiot to leave you.” Particularly with Arden, though he wouldn’t say that. “Should have asked you to call Ponth at least.” He clucked to the baby, who was now quieting. “All seemed quiet on the way in but I can check.”

“She gorged herself on herdbeast.” And likely meaninglessly slaughtered a fair few if the frenzy she had felt bleeding through was anything to go by. “She was too caught up in blood-craze to pick up. Not fed properly in a while.” It seemed she was finding the short sentences easier despite the sharpness it gave the structure of her words. “You weren’t an idiot. I shouldn’t have gotten scared.” But the question was, when would she stop? No doubt there was an element feeding from the edginess she felt from the fellis withdrawal as well that didn’t help in the slightest.

“Hah!” Cremsden gave a sharp laugh that had no humour in it at all. “When you master that, sweetheart, tell me the trick.” He stood up carefully, still holding Arden in one arm. The weyr seemed silent enough. “Right. I’ll be right back. If you get bored of sitting on my stained shirts and can’t walk far, the bed makes a decent enough couch I’ve found.”

There was a short, mirthless laugh but it tailed off into a groan. “If he’s not here, he’s in my head. All. The. Time. Waiting for me. Waiting for my guard to drop.” Her palms pressed against her temples as she tried to squeeze away the visage of H’lan’s smirking face that flashed behind her eyes. A hand waved vaguely towards the door. “Go sort Arden. Make sure he’s okay.” Shame was nipping at the heels of fear and she didn’t quite have the courage to look to see what damage had been wrought.

That hadn’t actually been Cremsden’s intent, although a cookie did find its way into Arden’s hands remarkably quickly as he looked around the weyr.

It didn’t take long for him to discover the cause of the crash and the stream of cursewords -- most definitely not suitable for a baby’s ears, and rather more ripe than even the Infirmary usually got to hear -- was responded to by a series of squawks that sounded to be much the same in firelizard.

“I apologise,” he called, lifting his voice rather than returning to the bedroom. “My firelizard is an asshole who wants to scare us all to death, and if he ever pulls that again I’ll cut his other fecking wing off!”

Whilst Cremsden was gone, Dytha tried to focus on pulling herself together. She could feel the slow burn of anger directed solely at herself and the chiding internal voice that told her she was so foolish. Ironically, it was the same anger that fuelled itself into stubborn determination that saw her carefully navigating to her feet. As the frenzy of fear ebbed, her senses were given room to notice the stiff aching sitting possessively in most of her joints. She was clutching the doorframe into the closet, one foot almost crossing the threshold as Cremsden’s voice drifted through.

For a second, part of her wanted to shout out, lash out or… something. Direct the flicker of embarrassed anger at something other than herself. Instead, there was a sigh. Because doing any of that fixed absolutely nothing. “It’s fine. He doesn’t know. Besides, perhaps I should have thought of that.” Except she hadn’t. It hadn’t even remotely dawned on her as even a vague possibility that the noise had been anything else.

“It’s fine. If you shout at him, he shouts back I’ve found. Some of the most satisfying arguments I’ve ever had are with him.” Cremsden’s voice drifted through the door, accompanied by a series of clatters and bangs. On the other side of the bedroom door he was carefully and methodically hunting through drawers, ticking through hiding places. Because somehow there was always still a hiding place.

Breathe. In. Out. And repeat. Dytha released there was a two pronged reason for not being willing to let go of the door. For one thing, her legs suddenly felt as though they had been filled with water. For another, she realised that she recognised the familiar biting pain of new or rather, re-opened lesions. Shardit. Tentatively she reached out to Ponth, only to realise that the green had gorged herself into oblivion, sleeping soundly and entirely oblivious to the goings on now her own bloodlust had been sated. They would talk about that later. Carefully using anything that had an edge that could be grabbed, Dytha made her way across the room painfully slowly, dropping onto the bed with a gasped groan of relief. “Try arguing with a dragon. They fight dirty.”

“I feel like if they used Bitey’s usual method for telling me I’m getting too uppity I might be short a limb,” Cremsden observed. His voice was remarkably calm, joking even, for someone who had been terrified for the sake of his child only minutes ago.

But then when he reappeared he was holding two glasses and a small dusty bottle of something that was definitely alcoholic. Strongly alcoholic from the usual rule of “the smaller the bottle, the more it’ll burn going down”.

“This is not a habit you are going to form,” he told her firmly as he sat down beside her. “But right now, it’ll help.”

“You don’t drink. Everyone knows that.” It came out a little more bluntly than she intended, but she would have been lying if she didn’t admit that the sight of the bottle was incredibly tempting. Even if admittedly it was a little because the potential oblivion of alcohol was a very powerful lure when all she wanted to do was escape everything.

“And yet somehow I still managed to locate this within five minutes hiding at the back of a drawer for emergencies.” Cremsden grimaced. “...Yeah. We’re not going to discuss this one with Margana. Or Cuylar for that matter. But this counts as an emergency.”

He poured steadily, even with one arm still holding Arden on his lap, and handed her the first glass before filling the second. “Get it down you. There are some talks I can’t do sober.”

She eyed him warily for a second before doing as she was told, sputtering slightly at the burn with all the inexperience of someone who didn’t drink all that often and when she did, it was more likely a light wine than a strong spirit. “Urrrghargh!” She wheezed, handing back the glass as her eyes streamed.

“Yeah. It takes you like that the first time.” Cremsden downed his own without flinching, then refilled them both before setting the bottle down out of easy reach. Better to at least make it slightly harder to drink the lot. “But it stops the shakes, which I’m betting you have. We’re just not going to make it a habit.”

She heard the slight chatter of her teeth before she fully acknowledged it and gave Cremsden a nod that was somewhat moot. Suddenly she felt as though she couldn’t stop muscles twitching and shaking of their own accord as she clung to the glass in her hands, the liquid jostling slightly. 

“There now, girl.” Cremsden’s glass went into the same hand with which he was supporting Arden. Hopefully the baby was too occupied with his cookie to take an interest. His free arm encircled her, without asking this time, slipping around her waist and pulling her closer. “There now. I’ve done worse, if you can believe it. Far worse. No lasting harm done.”

“Got enough bad habits,” she chattered as she sipped at the liquid, this time more slowly. “Most of them involved ignoring things and pretending I’m fine.” The sudden arm made her freeze slightly and a good deal of mental chastising that the arm didn’t belong to the hulking figure of a Bluerider. Besides, what was Cremsden going to do? Try and cop a feel with a baby in the other arm. She didn’t think so. Her eyes shifted to Arden before moving away guiltily. “He okay? I didn’t… I didn’t hurt him, did I?”

“No. You did exactly the logical thing you needed to do in the situation your brain told you that you were in. And if it had been, I’d have been thanking you. Nothing wrong with him that a snack won’t solve.” Later, Cremsden would allow himself to dwell on times when that might have gone differently; when the panic had risen until she’d tried stifling his cries with a hand over his mouth. But that was for later, right now his voice seemed steady. 

Somewhere in it, she noticed the compliment for what it was. And somewhere she was grateful. “Grabbing him was first thing that came into my head,” she mumbled almost sheepishly. “And the knife. Wasn’t going to let him take him.” No, it was clear that she wasn’t expecting or even wanting praise. It was more like like she was explaining herself. “Went in your room to have a wash. Since bathing’s off limits. Heard a crash from the main weyr.”

“Shells, girl, if you’d mentioned you wanted a wash I’d have walked you over to the bathing pool and turned my back!” Cremsden exclaimed. “Or asked Margana to, if you preferred.” Although.. Was that really any different to him doing it when they’d spent a flight together? There were probably rules to these things somewhere.  

The sheepish face said it all. The face of “I didn’t want to be a bother”. Not that she was quietly keeping a tally of all the things she used with a mental note to replace them when she got chance. “I’ve been spoiled by having my own on hand. Even when my feet are… problematic, it’s still in range.” There was a faint glimmer of genuine mischief in her eyes for just a moment. “I’ll be getting ideas above my station with all that luxury.”

“You forget I helped you clean it out,” Cremsden said drily. “Luxury mould, always on hand when you need it.” Somehow he managed to maneuver his glass for a sip without dropping Arden. “I shouldn’t have left you though. Particularly not when the fellis is still working its way out. I forgot how it can take you like that. I’m sorry.” There was genuine repentance there, Cremsden would be kicking himself for ‘I should have known better’ for a good long time.

“S’no need for sorries. You treated me like things were normal. And not like they’re… weird.” Even though they all knew that they were. She was getting better at sipping the liquor without coughing it up through her nose and the burn was settling into a more comfortable heat in her stomach. As the alcohol began to sink into her system, it pushed past the residual fear and she sagged a little against the arm. Providing no one walked in to question why she was half dressed and being plied with alcohol. “Don’t feel as edgy as yesterday, that’s something right? Means it’s getting out.” The small smile was hopeful and possibly a little bit overly so.

“You’ll get there.” And that was generically soothing without really answering that. “Honestly this---” he gestured vaguely with his glass “--might well have been part of it. No-one is at their best at this point. Your head is everywhere, the moodswings are killer and your brain is insisting that no, logical you should be in control right up until it gets over-ridden.” He spoke with the authority of someone talking from experience. Although-- apparently experience of sobering up from the substance he was currently nursing a glass of.

Her head booped his shoulder. It wasn’t hard to do, not at her height and it wasn’t as though she had a lot to spare. “That or I just start carrying a really big knife to feel better.” Not that she knew how to use it outside of the kitchen. She might be a mean vegetable cutter but probably didn’t stand up so well against other humans. “I feel… like a horrible mess between monthlie moodswings and Ponth being proddy. Like if you asked me which hand was which, I probably couldn’t tell you.”

“I reached the point where everyone thought I was fine and allowable out into polite company and then somebody upset me and I had to be dragged off else I’d likely have killed him,” Cremsden admitted. And that-- Cremsden was shouty enough in the Infirmary, and rumour said he’d had a fist fight in the Dining Hall once but he never really seemed dangerous. Mostly, if someone seemed actually scared he moderated himself fast. “As I said, this isn’t nearly the worst you could have done.”

“Guess it’s a good thing I only normally talk to like… four people. I can usually wangle my way into getting paperwork to hole myself up with. Amazing how easily Apprentices trade shift hours for paperwork being done.” The alcohol was loosening her tongue and clearly doing the trick. Jitters had faded and she seemed a little less preoccupied with watching every corner for potential danger. “Will I be able to go back? To normal, I mean.” The question seemed to come out of nowhere but it was also apparent it was the question that had been running rampant.

“I--” Cremsden hesitated, and then went for the truth “--don’t know. You’ll likely have to see a mindhealer,” he admitted. “And then-- I don’t know. For some people it goes away. For me-- it gets better unless I’m tired, or on edge, or stressed or there’s just something that tips me over.” As Ambrelli had once when he had first seen her and sent Dytha away. “Mostly it’s fine. When it’s not K’ren and I have agreements on what I’m meant to do so I can be..not fine safely.”

Well, at least it was honest. “I liked being invisible. Just another miscellaneous Dragoneaher. Who occasionally got called into top secret stuff. And wrote Pern’s longest project on the development of dragon eggs.” That was something that seemed to niggle at her, the fact that she had now gained some sort of notoriety. “Now I’ll be known as Dytha with the dragon that all the other dragons chased because of some other dragon. They’ll be turning up at the Infirmary just to have a gawp.”

The fact that Cremsden’s quiet laugh seemed to be genuine rather than bitter might be reassuring at least. “Oh, for about a sevenday,” he said mildly, and there was a tease in that somewhere, the arm around her waist squeezing lightly a moment. “Sweetling, your side of the Infirmary might be remarkably sane but I’ve lost count of the breakdowns experienced on our side. They don’t stick in the memory long.”

“Providing Nimoth doesn’t get involved again the next time Ponth rises.” And it was said with half humour, which was certainly better than none. Ponth had already discovered the young gold’s involvement, torn between concern, offence, bemusement and gratitude. “Oh well, at least she’ll feel pretty for a while. I won’t be able to turn off her smug voice for at least a month.” Until the green forgot about it herself. “Maybe we can slip a dose of passionberries into the cooler in the Dining Hall and let the Candidates take the attention for a while.”

He’d been taking a sip of his drink as she said that and spluttered, making a wild grab to save both Arden and the glass. “Feck!” Liquor coming out of the nose burned and not in a good way.

That prompted a snicker, a real one, even as she demurely sipped at her own glass. “I might be small, Cremsden, but I’m no child. I’m certainly not all innocence and cakes. Well, maybe cakes.” There was a twinkle of devillment, fuelled by alcohol that took charge and kicked some of the fear aside, the false bravado of alcohol instilled confidence taking the reins. At least until it wore off.

“Feck off.” It was said amiably as he managed to somehow steady everything. “Pretty sure you’re still sixteen.”

“Hah. I wasn’t even that young when I got here. Well, not much more. Last I checked, I’m twenty-two turns this turn. Besides, I can still negotiate the child’s tickets at the game stalls at the Gather.” Dytha had long come to terms with her diminutive size and learned to poke fun at herself before anyone else could have a chance. And it had its perks, after all. “Or do you like to remember your long lost Apprentices as they were before they left you for the wicked Dragonhealer side?”

“Bah. Most of them abandon me at Hatchings. At least you came back to the Infirmary,” Cremsden admitted. Arden squirmed in his lap and he looked down. “I think he’s looking for someone who didn’t just nearly drop him. You want him a bit?”

“Weren’t getting rid of me that easy,” she said, holding out her hands before her brain stopped to process and consider. It was likely some form of instinctive comfort seeking that she didn’t have time to squash. Dytha didn’t consider herself the “cuddly type” who looked sadly for a pat on the head every time she had a bad day. Normally it came in the form of “buck up and stop feeling sorry for yourself”. “Besides, wasn’t a chance in Between I was going to be fighting Threadfall every few days. I’d probably end up falling off mid-flight from sheer exhaustion. That or decapitate myself trying to juggle firestone sacks.”

“And yet you seem to make it through Infirmary shifts without dropping, even the Fall ones,” Cremsden pointed out, setting his glass down safely before he dumped Arden in her lap. The baby promptly began with his usual pulling on Dytha’s top. “I really have to teach you the appropriate way to greet ladies.”

“Simple really, it doesn’t interfere with Ponth,” Dytha remarked absently as she cooed at Arden, settling him in her lap. “They’re not for you and there’s nothing in them. Honest. Besides,”she said, turning her attention back to Cremsden. “It’s basically that my pain threshold interferes with Ponth’s own perception. Meaning her concentration wobbles. But in the Infirmary, she can distract herself with things she doesn’t need to focus on. So it’s just me and not a blurred mess of pain and Ponth reflecting it back at me.”

“Ach, she’s a little sweetheart though.” A few days with the little  green on their ledge and Cremsden was already growing fond of her, even if there was no way of communicating between the two. “You can send her over to our side to calm scared dragons any time you want. Better than them shouting at me.” He eyed his glass then leaned over casually to reach for the bottle.

“I think that’s… what makes all of this worse. I mean, it’s Ponth. Who gives you sad eyes if she thinks someone isn’t her friend. I mean, it’s like kicking a puppy.” If she was going to say anything else, it was interrupted as Cremsden moved. “Ah ah,” she cautioned. “Should you be doing that?”

“...I spilt some?” Cremsden suggested guiltily, pausing with his hand around the bottle. No, he most definitely should not and his expression said he knew that full well. The problem was that once it was open it was much harder to resist one more glass under the excuse of ‘well, it’ll go bad if I don’t drink it’.

“One more. For both of us. Then it goes away. If needs be, I’ll stash it.” Alcohol made her bolder, that was for sure. But at the same time, it also wasn’t her weyr and she wasn’t entirely sure she was someone who had the right to tell Cremsden what he could or couldn’t do. Even if she wasn’t sure it was a good idea. But admittedly, a part of her also wouldn’t object, finding the sense of “sort of calm” to be a far better improvement than constant twitchiness.

Whether she had the right or not, Cremsden accepted it, topping up both their glasses before he leaned over to tuck it behind her legs. 

Her bare legs, he realised belatedly, straightening up. Because she.. Only had a top on. Huh. “Uhm,” he said intelligently. “Uh. You’re missing some clothes.”

The glass was taken, balanced around the infant settled in her lap. At Cremsden’s words, she looked down at herself in surprise as though she had completely forgotten what she had been doing before… well, before earlier. Thankfully she was still more or less decent, wearing a long tunic top that protected her modesty. Well, and underthings. “I am,” she said in some bemusement. “Washing. I was going to have a wash.” The idea felt fuzzy and the sensible part of her brain noted that there would definitely be no more alcohol after this glass. “Don’t worry, you’re safe unless Arden gets determined to investigate my top.” The idea was clearly funnier to her in her own mind than it actually was. She had no idea why the concept of an infant trying to get into her shirt was amusing but for some reason it was.

Arden burbled, hearing his name but having no idea what was being discussed, and tugged at her top again as though on command. Cremsden grinned though at the laugh.

“There’s a girl,” he encouraged her. “Don’t get used to this, ‘cause that’s when you can’t stop, but once in a while? Like having a little holiday from your own brain.”

The laughter was accompanied by the snorting chuckle that only came out when she really had let herself slip. “You won’t say that when your son has his way and you get to awkwardly explain why you’re sitting in front of a pair of naked breasts.” For some reason that idea broke her slightly and the snorts turned into a short cackle that seemed fed by totally random hilarity as she sipped, still of enough mind to caution herself against knocking it back in a hurry.

Cremsden was laughing too now, a gentle chuckle as he kept an eye on her to make sure she wasn’t going to either drop Arden or fall off the bed. “Aaand she’s lost it,” he teased. “Two drinks and you’re gone. We need to work on your tolerance, my girl.”

“Psh, I’m a wine drinker. With a meal.” And it was actually true. She enjoyed a glass or two with a meal but wasn’t one to go out and drink on a whim, even after a particularly hard shift. It wasn’t for any specific reason, it just wasn’t really her thing. “And besides,” she iterated stubbornly as she adjusted Arden’s weight. “I’m not completely incapacitated. Just a  bit fuzzy around the edges.” Even if the fuzziness was a rather enjoyable feeling to be sure.

“You can still say the word ‘incapacitated’ so you’re probably safe,” Cremsden agreed. He leaned back a little, stretching now he no longer had Arden on his knee. “I miss wine with a meal,” he added wistfully. “I miss wine.”

“Good thing you didn’t look in my cupboards too much. I’ve got a small collection. I like cooking.” When she had somewhere to do it. She had sacrificed the potential of cooking space for the space her bathing pool took up. It had been a case of greater needs over personal wants. That and she hadn’t had the drive to do it, cooking was funny like that. It responded to your mood.

“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Cremsden waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the door. “You been holding out on us, girl? Have at. Make a change from us grabbing from the Dining Hall on the way home.”

The idea wandered around her thoughts. It would be a nice way of doing something for Cremsden and Margana. Wasn’t like she had the marks to give them anything in terms of monetary recompense. “Had to learn to potentially snag a husband,” she said wryly. “Before my mother learned that wouldn’t happen. Then when I could do it for myself after leaving Weyrlinghood, I started enjoying it.”

“Oh, my mam was a kitchens worker so she made sure I learned the basics,” Cremsden admitted. “Soon as I was old enough to stand on a stool I was washing up and peeling tubers. Nothing fancy though, and there’s just never time!” Not between work, and more work, and trying to write things up and taking care of Arden.

“If I… gave you a list… could you speak with the kitchens? Maybe check it?” The unspoken worry of the food being tampered with somehow didn’t need to be outlined. But the idea was taking root. She didn’t like  to just take kindness, she always felt that she needed to owe it back somehow. Dytha  could feel the doubt trying to throw her off track, that there would be no point, that it was useless because they’d all probably be dead long before. The uncertainties of not knowing what was happening with H’lan meant her mind had all the more fodder to create ‘what if’ scenarios. “Is good to learn the basics. Means you can fend for yourself. Even if you’ve got kitchens to rely on, means you don’t have to rely on them. Y’know?”

“Aye. Though I usually got proportions wrong when trying to cook just for us,” Cremsden confessed. “Few occasions of peeling enough tubers to feed a full Infirmary. I can sort the kitchens though. They like me in there, and I’ve got an old patient who’ll sort it personally if I ask nicely.” Being well-trained to respect cooks unless you wanted to get hit by a spoon in childhood helped a lot when asking hopefully if there was anything left after a shift ran over.

“Hah!” The snort of laughter clearly emphasised that she knew that experience all too well. “What is it about tubers? You either never make enough or enough to feed a small colony.” Pausing to finish the last mouthful of liquor, the sheepish awkwardness tried to rear its head again. “Maybe for in a couple day’s time? Lets me get to know what I need to ask them to pre-cook for me.” But the idea, well, it was the first nice idea that had wandered in her thoughts for a while. And she was very reluctant to let it go.

“Do you do cake?” Cremsden asked with all the hopefulness of a small boy. “Apparently the person baking Infirmary cakes Impressed last Hatching. ‘S worse than when the apprentices Impress. Breakroom is not the same.”

“Do I do cake?” Dytha snorted in mock offence. She wasn’t the sort to brag about anything she did remotely well. She was more likely to downplay it into non-existence. “I’ll have you know I do a…” She paused and the expression became purely mischievous that was actually both unusual to see and a pleasant surprise. It made a change from the typical scowl of ‘working through the pain’ that Cremsden was likely more familiar with as her ‘work face’ and the far more frequent ‘clearly lost in thought chewing over something’ face of late. “... You know what, I’m not going to tell you. You’re just going to have to wait and see.” 

“Tease!” Cremsden accused, laughing again. First drink for a few months and while three glasses weren’t enough to make him visibly drunk he was definitely more relaxed than usual, the usual curses of self-consciousness and over-thinking disabled for now. 

Relaxed enough to move without thinking to let the hand around her waist tickle her.

“Oh you have no idea.” It was the alcohol talking, freeing up her tongue to add a lascivious note that normally was kept neatly boxed up for release around ‘people she knew well enough’. The edge had been worn down for now and the warm fuzziness of the minor intoxication was a pleasant reprieve from the tense, balled up state of constant alert she had been in for… shells, it felt like it had been forever and a day. 

The tickle was unexpected, causing a squeal and shudder that saw her sacrificing the now empty glass to roll harmlessly onto the bed whilst she kept Arden secure from taking a nosedive. “Dangerous territory!” she squeaked. The unfamiliarity of Cremsden’s own relaxation was also something that her brain just rolled with rather than overly assessed. But then, alcohol had a good way of shutting down the need to over analyse everything. She was enjoying the brief sensation of normality after the absolute chaos of before. There had been no reprimand, no dismay, no outrage or worse, fear that she would do… something bad. And that had helped. Somehow.

Arden crowed and grabbed onto her, having no real idea what was happening but his Big People were laughing and playing and that could only be a good thing. He clutched at her top, apparently trying to climb her like a tree which accomplished what his earlier efforts had completely failed at, tugging it down.

And Cremsden for a second didn’t notice, too occupied with laughing at her and tickling to notice the… garment malfunction and back off immediately.

Despite her diminutive height, Faranth had decided to make it apparent that Dytha was indeed a fully grown woman by amplifying certain proportions accordingly. That meant that had she been shaped somewhat differently, perhaps the entire situation could be been discreetly managed in a manner that wouldn’t make it entirely obvious as to what just happened. That however, wasn’t the case. Giggling with the slight shriek of hilarity that tickling seemed to cause, her mind slightly fuzzy from the strong liquor realised a little too late what the tension on her front meant, absently lifting Arden to give him better purchase without stopping to inspect what he was doing.

Buttons popped, fabric pulled and Arden, no doubt to his glee, would find himself face to face with precisely what he had been looking for - albeit in the wrong person. And there would be no hiding from anyone what was now on very abundant display to all and sundry.

Cremsden too was-- not drunk, but maybe slightly more tipsy than he himself would admit, tolerance lowered by a few months completely without alcohol. Between tickling and Dytha wriggling, he still couldn’t have said quite how he ended up with a full handful of soft warm breast.

For a heartbeat he froze, eyes wide, a long lingering heartbeat and then he hastily snatched his hand away and averted his gaze, near babbling apologies even as Arden flung himself at the other breast and clamped his mouth around the nipple victoriously.

“Shards, I’m sorry-- I didn’t mean-- Arden, stop that!”

It took her brain several seconds longer than it would have done without the tinge of alcohol to realise that she felt the coolness of air on skin that shouldn’t be feeling it. Her brain was just in the process of wading through comprehension but what happened next happened so fast that her thoughts tripped over themselves. The sudden, hot squeeze of a hand was then followed so quickly by the sudden hot, wet pull of a mouth on the other side that her thoughts couldn’t decide what she was meant to deal with first.

The first part resolved itself, or rather, by the hand’s owner even as Dytha gawped back with and equally wide-eyed face of absolute “what just happened”. Her mouth opened as though to say something but the only thing that came out was a squeak of surprise as the rest of her brain realised that she now had a child attached to her in a manner that was entirely logical. If not the entirely wrong person.

And despite the fact that there was nothing, as yet, emerging from the breast Arden was both content and determined to hang onto his prize, suckling with energy as his father attempted to prize him off.

“Shells, Arden, would you just--- I am so sorry-- feck--” It was impossible to remove a determined baby without actually looking to see what you were doing. Cremsden was red as a beet-- and then, suddenly, as the ridiculousness of the whole situation struck him, laughing and laughing hard. It was rare most people got to ever see more than a chuckle out of him but when something tickled him now and then he could unexpectedly laugh so much he had to fight to breathe.

He wasn’t the only one red in the face, Dytha’s own face was looking as though she had dunked it in the bright powders that some of the finer ladies used to colour their cheeks. The laughter wasn’t helping. Or was it? It certainly took some of the disaster out of the whole insanity. Some part of her thought to consciously tuck the ruined shirt around the side vacated by Cremsden’s hand. “Don’t choke. Or I won’t be able to explain that to anyone,” she said with a firmness that was belied by the weak, entirely baffled laughter that leaked out around the side of it.

Having a small child “attached” wasn’t exactly something she had experienced. The sensation was baffling, perplexing, more than a little insane and though she never would have admitted it out loud… also oddly comforting. Definitely one to dissect later on when no one could see her flaming face burning itself up in the darkness. Arden was carefully jostled, as much to prevent too much “drag” than anything. Plus a comfortable child was less likely to wriggle. And then there were those teeth Cremsden mentioned…”

“If this was a different scenario, I would probably offer my services. But I lack the necessary… supplement. So. Any clues for how to encourage him to let go or am I going to be sitting here thinking of a way to explain this to Margana?” The bemusement on her face took away any chastisement that might have been there, it was clear that part of her brain was too busy trying to figure out how any of this had happened.

Laughter was probably entirely inappropriate but it was one of those things which, once started, was more difficult to stop than start. Embarrassment seemed to feed it rather than quell it, and Cremsden choked out the words between wheezes. “Margana-- hooks a finger-- between mouth and nipple--” His shoulders shook with laughter and he dropped his head into his hands. “...not volunteering..”

Dytha watched Cremsden’s collapsed state of laughter with the bemused amusement on her face that suggested she didn’t entirely trust herself to speak unless she lost her grip and joined him. Her mouth rearranged itself constantly, fighting around the smile that kept trying to win its way through. “You mean breaking the seal,” she said as she tried to set her face into a tone of far too much seriousness which meant that she was probably only half a second away from giving up and just laughing until she wet herself. 

There was a noise that probably meant agreement from behind Cremsden’s hands, and he was off again, laughing so hard his stomach hurt with it.

Still trying vainly to keep a straight face - the hilarity of the moment somehow helping override what would have been otherwise very appropriate mortification, Dytha attempted to slide a finger into Arden’s mouth. Just as there was a furious grab and equally furiously determined pull. And that was the final straw. Her head dropped forward and her shoulders began to quiver as the snorting guffaw broke its way out in triumph. “Oh… oh shells. He’s determined… There’s nothing…” The wheeze of words made its way out in between the gut creasing laughter that made her shake from head to toe, her free hand flopping uselessly next to her as she tried, and failed, again to remove Arden from his determined endeavour.

This was ridiculous, not least because it wasn’t as though Cremsden had never had to professionally touch breasts before.

Just not breasts he had just accidentally groped, belonging to the friend currently living with him.

Still, he tried his best to gulp back the laughter and volunteer. “I-- uh-- can try-- if you don’t mind--” Because really there was no way to do that without both looking and touching. Still, it was his son. He should at least try to rescue her.

“No,” she wheezed between eye watering laughter, the tears rolling down her cheeks thickly. “I… I don’t want you.. Ah hah… feeling weird…” Because like this whole thing couldn’t get any weirder. It likely didn’t help that her brain was still trying to unravel some deep seated meaning behind the sensation Arden was inducing, her brain was trying to split itself in four different directions. “I’ll just… I’ll.. uh…” In between her snorts as she tried to compose herself, Dytha managed to wiggle a finger into Arden’s mouth, breaking the vaccuum-like seal the infant had managed to create with an audibly loud pop.

“...because everything else is perfectly normal…” Cremsden somehow managed to spit that out and then the pop got him again. He rested his head against his hand and gave in to it until he was weeping with laughter.

Arden eyed Dytha with bright eyes, apparently unbothered by his removal. It was worth a try that look said, even as he reached hopefully for her chest again. “...Ma?”

“Stop laughing!” But the command was lost under the layer of her own almost hysterical laughter. The suddenly chill on saliva dampened skin caught her attention as did the loss of tugging pressure. “You wish, child…” she snorted, managing to grab her shirt and pull it around, providing at least some sort of barrier.

“Sor--ry..” Laughter rarely stopped on command but Cremsden made an effort to gulp it back. This mostly meant that he still laughed silently, shoulders shaking as he reached to remove the child. “C’m’ere.”

Said child was rather hastily passed back, even as shaky fingers that felt as though they were filled with water attempted to button together to buttons that hadn’t been pulled free. Well, she was decent again. Or rather, decent enough. “Well, I suppose we could tell the Infirmary I’m a non-producing wet nurse to help Arden soothe or… something…” It was still a weak sounding, laugh filled voice as she wiped away the hot streaks of tears from her cheeks.

“Yeah, because that sounds less dodgy than our current cover story.” Cremsden snorted again with laughter, though he sounded a little calmer. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble, my lad,” he told Arden mock-sternly.

“Why do you have bite-marks, Dytha? Oh you know… funny story.” The mock parody induced calmer laughter with a “hoo” of suddenly exhausted exhalation as muscles suddenly realised they no longer needed to be clenched by a fit of unexpected laughter. The soft chuckle was one that was filled with “I’m not even going to think about what just happened because my brain might break”. Shaking her head, Dytha wagged a finger at Arden. “That sort of behaviour will land you in trouble, young man.”

“And who are you planning on showing bitemarks there to, my girl?” Cremsden demanded playfully. It should have been far more awkward but somehow the laughter had banished what otherwise might have had the pair of them blushing and unable to look at each other. 

Arden batted at Dytha’s finger, and then wriggled, making protesting noises until his father lowered him to the floor. “Go find Bitey then. Tell him I’m still pissed off with him about my belt.” Faranth help them when the child could speak more than a couple of words. His vocabulary was likely to be interesting.

“That’s a valid point. But still!” She was almost sorry she had finished her drink before the chaos had ensued. Instead she watched the child indulgently as he was set down, shaking her head to herself as her brain still tried to work itself out. “If it’s any consolation, he didn’t bite. Although I was mildly terrified I would never be able to get him to release.”

“I was just worried I might have to help!” Cremsden admitted, a hint of laughter still in his voice as the baby motored off at a fast crawl. “Faranth.” He leaned back on one hand on the bed, needing to catch his breath and recover. “People told me children specialise in embarrassing you but I didn’t realise it started that early.”

Leaning over, Dytha patted his knee with a chuckle. “And now you and Margana can compare stories now you’re on equal ground.” Without actually spelling it out, it was the closest way she could come to saying that Cremsden’s own misadventure hadn’t scarred her for life. What it had done to him however was an entirely different story. “We’ll probably want to leave that part in the version that makes its way around the Infirmary if we want them to believe we’re all up to no good in here.” With the residual “feel good” of laughter running through her veins, it was easy to make light of it all.

“Shells.” Cremsden meditated on that a moment, just tipsy enough for it not to bring another blush. “She’s going to tease me forever when I tell her.” The idea of not telling her had clearly not crossed his mind.

“I have no issue with it. I mean her being told.” Dytha finished hurriedly in case her first words could be grossly misinterpreted. “I don’t want to foster secrets. You’re already putting up with me taking up space. Besides, I’m sure she’s not the sort to think I’m trying to seduce you, or the other way around. That or she’s the sort to be sorry she missed out.” No, she didn’t think that Margana was some sexed-up fiend, but there was still a fluid sexuality to Riders that seemed a bit baffling to her from time to time. They were just so… matter of fact about it just being a part of life.

Cremsden snorted. “She was a little disappointed that this was just a cover story,” he owned, alcohol allowing that to slip out without too much thought. “She’ll be fine. Other than the teasing.” And she’d be fine because, even talking about her like this, there was still that slight note in his voice that said this person I am talking about is a person I straight-out adore. 

Now it was Dytha’s turn to blush again, hazy memories of the Flight flickering into place. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to seduce her out from under your feet. I’m not that sort of Greenrider.” The small smile was sheepish, even whilst her cheeks continued to burn. “She’s allowed to tease me too. I don’t think I’ll be living down errant child trying… no… succeeding in trying to attach himself any time soon.”

“Eh. I feel like if that was going to happen it would have happened before now,” Cremsden admitted straight-forwardly. “Used to worry more about it. Just about got used to the idea she’s not going to suddenly vanish now.”

That made sense. She had had a similar degree of worry about R’bor given he was about as stereotypically a Bronzerider as you could get. Well, and he had vanished but not like that. She nodded in acknowledgement. “Well… for what it’s worth…” And suddenly she looked terribly embarrassed. “She was really nice… To me, I meant… Kind. I don’t think you can go far wrong when you’ve got kindness waiting at home for you.” 

Cremsden smiled, and there was a softness in his eyes. “I’d follow her to the other end of Pern if she wanted me to,” he confessed, and that tenderness was surely not completely due to drink. “I think she was the best thing to happen to me in.. well.. Ever.”

“She’s lucky, honestly. You’re a good sort to have fighting in the corner for you.” The remark was almost coy, not flirtatiously but as though she wasn’t sure she was allowed to make an observation like it. Dytha had noted the expression and the pang was almost a little jealous. “I think most women on Pern would kill to know that they’re thought about like that.” Dytha cleared her throat a little awkwardly, as though suddenly noticing that although she wasn’t half naked, she still wasn’t entirely as respectable as she should be. “Now… I uh… I think I should probably find my trousers. And put the kettle on.”

“How about I go deal with the kettle and you can have that wash if you want and get dressed in peace?” Cremsden suggested. “Then we’ll sort my shirts out and one of us can escort you to the bathing pools for a proper wash at some point.”

That was… actually a really sensible idea. “I think that might be the way to go. I don’t want the couch to start smelling like me…” Not that she was unclean, but she was incredibly conscious of it not being her weyr. Plus time to herself to clean up would give her head a little time to shuffle through some things. And there was a few there. The biggest one was the glaring reality at just how she had reacted at the mere thought of H’lan being there. Not to mention the even more glaring reality that she potentially could have gotten Arden hurt. And then there was the fact that she was, for the first time in a very long time relying on other people. 

The haze of alcohol was already beginning to burn away and Dytha realised that over the days to come, she was going to have to make a lot of decisions. She just didn’t know what about yet. Staying with Cremsden and Margana was a solution, to be sure. But only temporary. The sooner she knew what to expect, the sooner she could decide what it was precisely that she needed to do. But first, first there would be tea. Because tea fixed just about anything.

= End = 

Nutmeg on the Wizzy.
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